Born in Columbus, Georgia in 1891, the abstract painter Alma Woodsey Thomas did not arrive at her mature style until she was in her seventies.  Her work is often compared to mosaics, Seurat’s Pointillism, and the Washington Color School, but remains distinct with her elegant arrangement of bright and bold colors.

As both a female and an African American artist, Thomas is an important role model and figure in American art.  She wanted to be an architect as a child, but both her sex and her race restricted her studies in the field.  Instead, she enrolled at the historically-black Howard University in Washington D.C., the city to which her family moved in 1907.  She initially enrolled as a home economics major, but switched to fine arts, becoming the university’s first graduate in the department in 1921.

In 1924, Thomas began what would be a thirty-five year career of teaching art at a junior high school in Washington D.C.  Thomas was devoted to her students,


organizing art clubs, lectures, and student exhibitions to incite their interest in art.  She continued to do her own paintings during this time, but her work remained representational.  When she finally retired from teaching, she was able to fully devote her time to her art, resulting in her mature, abstract style.

Thomas finally showed this abstract work in an exhibition at her alma mater, Howard University, in 1966.  This debut was followed with a solo shows at the Whitney Museum of America Art (the first African American woman to do so).  She has had major retrospectives at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (1981) and at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. (1972), and her work has been shown three times at the White House.

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